Tag Archives: Patriarchy

PUAs in Japan: when misogyny and Orientalism mix

(Content note: misogyny and violence against women, abuse mentality, racism)

Readers might already be aware of the pick-up artist (or “executive dating coach, as he apparently prefers to be known) Julien Blanc, aka RSD Julien, who has received opprobrium for the manipulative and often violent tactics he advises men to use to attempt to attract women. In particular, a video of him using these tactics against women on the street in Japan has gained attention for the openly violent actions he is shown using- putting women in headlocks and thrusting their heads into his crotch, for example. The backlash has begun, with feminist activist Jennifer Li starting a Change.org campaign urging hotels in Australia to refuse to host Blanc’s seminars, which has already successfully persuaded the Como hotel in Melbourne to cancel one such event. (Li is also behind the #TakeDownJulienBlanc hashtag.)  In Japan too, commenters are raising awareness of Blanc’s planned return to Japan in mid-November, hoping to prevent him assaulting any more women.

I’d like to urge everyone who hasn’t already to sign Li’s petition, and to spread the word that this man’s actions, and those of PUAs more generally, constitute harassment or even assault of women. In this blog I’d like to focus a bit on the Orientalism that underscores Blanc’s behaviour towards Japanese women in his video, and how that Orientalism is reflected in attitudes towards Asian women among not only the pick-up artist community, but also among Western (generally white) men in Asia.

(For the purposes of transparency: I studied Japanese at university and spent a year in Japan as part of my course, where I observed the behaviour and attitudes I discuss. This obviously means my impressions are limited to one country in Asia and are of course subjective in nature;  I cannot pretend to be an expert on Orientalism or the dynamics of how Western men conceive of Asian women or Japanese women in particular. Feel free to let me know whether you think my observations are valid or not.)

Anyone who, like me,  is driven by some masochistic impulse to spend any time reading into the PUA movement- men who seek codified, systematic ways to seduce women- will probably come to the conclusion that manipulation is central to the approach these men adopt towards women. The central idea that PUAs/”dating coaches”/whatever advocate is that there are foolproof shortcuts available to men (for a fee, of course) to essentially trick women into sleeping with them. For a sizeable portion of PUAs, in fact, the central pleasure of sexual conquest seems not to be sexual, but the “conquest”- the sense of having “beaten” or “won” against the woman in question. If like me, you believe in patriarchy as a social system and a mindset that values domination and control above all else, the connection seems obvious. So too does the frequent characterisation of PUAs as seeing women as enemies in a video game- if you consult the strategy guide and use the right techniques against the “enemy”, you will be able to control them and gain a victory, without fail. PUA communities therefore buy into the unstated patriarchal imperative to exert control over women, and the dehumanisation and essentialist attitudes (“women are all the same, they all respond predictably to these actions”) that one must adopt in order to use manipulation against an entire group of people without encountering moral conflict.

There are differences in how these men see separate groups of women, though, which lead to differing approaches against said groups. In particular, PUAs and others in the affiliated internet “manosphere” view Asian women through the lens of Orientalism, buying into crass stereotypes of them as submissive, subservient, demure, and focussed on pleasing the men in their life. This is often held up as an ideal model of womanhood, contrasted against Western (generally American) women who are characterised as too demanding, selfish or even “ruined” by the influence of feminism. (This antipathy never seems to stop PUAs from attempting to seduce Western women, funnily enough.)

While the manipulative or even outright abusive techniques PUAs champion are themselves forms of violence (Blanc and at least one other pick-up guru have characterised the Duluth Power and Control Wheel as a how-to guide on “gaming” women, which is unusual only in its frankness), it is less common that they explicitly recommend an escalation into physical violence of the kind displayed by Blanc, at least when first meeting a woman. So why does Blanc feel so confident in assaulting Japanese women? Certainly, he utilises this outright aggression against women around the world. But he seems particularly brazen about this behaviour in Japan, bragging that “When you go to Tokyo….if you’re a white male, you can do what you want.” He also gives voice to abusers and rapists everywhere with the pronouncement that “Every foreigner who is white does this.”

Here, the racist conception of Asian women as submissive and non-retaliatory intersects with the misogyny inherent in the PUA outlook on women in general. Because Japanese women are believed to be too submissive to object to abuse, and because women are believed to be property men can do what they want with, Blanc feels entitled to assault with even more impunity than he would against white women. And because of the belief abusers hold that all men treat women like they do, he feels confident enough to display this abuse online and promote it to other men- every white man in Japan does this, or they would if they could. Unconsciously, he makes explicit the power that white privilege gives him, even in a majority non-white country like Japan. Because unfortunately, unless someone decided to file a complaint and press charges against him, he likely will get away with this. The influence of white supremacy around the world means that often when white Western men harass or abuse Japanese women, nothing gets done.

Obviously, few white men in Japan engage in openly abusive behaviour like Blanc’s. But the Orientalist view of Asian women that spurs such behaviour on is not uncommon among those men. During my time in the country I quickly became aware of the other exchange students who spent most of their time trying to seduce Japanese women, who would sometimes openly profess their “appreciation” for said women over those from their own country. The point is not that international relationships are a bad thing- happy, respectful partnerships between white men and Japanese women happen all the time. However, men who travel to Japan (or other countries in East Asia- the stereotypes in question are rarely sensitive to nationality) with a preconceived notion of the country’s women moulded by Orientalism are more likely to fetishise those women than to treat them as individuals worthy of respect. Even if they don’t use physical violence like Julien Blanc, they are likely to feel more entitled to harass women in these countries, to ignore signs of discomfort or shrug them off as “natural submissiveness”. This behaviour is all too common against women in Western countries; buying into Orientalist stereotypes can only make it worse.

It’s a good thing that Blanc’s abusive behaviour, and his promotion of abuse to other men, is being exposed and opposed. With any luck he will soon find it impossible to profit off of his behaviour, though I won’t hold out hope that this will cause him to question whether what he is doing is acceptable. What Blanc does, however, is at the extreme end of a spectrum of behaviours. While it’s easy to focus on the PUAs who, like Blanc, openly harass and assault women, we also need to pay attention to the racist and misogynist ideas behind their behaviour. Few will take them to such extremes, but they underscore the outlooks of far more men than just the relatively small pick-up artist community.

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We need to talk about women: metal’s patriarchal structure

Reinventing the Steel: A three-part discussion of how extreme metal could reinvigorate itself through explicit ideological engagement with feminism

  1. (i) We need to talk about women: metal’s patriarchal structure

In the last post, I promised to talk about the specific form that a politicised, ideologically engaged metal music might take. But first, I want to take a brief detour into a potentially fraught topic- the issue of women’s representation, or lack thereof, within metal, and how this reflects wider societal structures.

The case of Tim Lambesis, the singer of As I Lay Dying who is currently facing trial for attempting to arrange the murder of his estranged wife Meggan, shows that hostility towards women is unfortunately still not hard to find within the metal community. Countless examples can be found of online commenters, men and women, taking the attempted murderer’s side, castigating his wife as a “bitch” and speculating on what she must have done to provoke her husband1. This kind of victim blaming is not exclusive to metal, of course. The outpouring of fan support for Chris Brown after his assault against Rihanna shows that blaming women for violence committed against them is a society-wide problem2.

The Lambesis case does demonstrate, however, that for all their supposed counter-culture credentials, metal fans are not above some old-fashioned victim-blaming and misogyny. As a subculture created within a larger society structured under the system of patriarchy, it’s not exactly surprising that the metal community reflects that underlying patriarchal structure, even as it defines itself in opposition to mainstream culture.

At this point, it would be useful to define what patriarchy actually is. What it absolutely is not is a conspiracy among all men to engage in misogyny and deliberately keep women down for the fun of it. (Making this clear probably won’t stop people accusing me of defining metal fans as misogynists, but at least I can say I tried). The theory of patriarchy does not state that all men actively hate women. It is a model of social organisation based around veneration of dominance and control, that privileges men-as-a-group over women-as-a-group.

Of course, it is necessary to note that the various interrelated metal subcultures are not monolithic- as there are substantial differences between bands and subgenres re: musical topics and approaches, different metallers will react to patriarchy in different ways. It is not accurate to state that all metal fans consciously subscribe to patriarchal norms, and they may in fact actively subvert them. There are numerous examples of metal serving as a site of resistance against oppressive patriarchal control structures, particularly religious ones. The Satanist and atheist stances of countless bands need little explanation. The example of Janaza, a one-woman black metal band from Iraq that espouses an anti-Islam stance, shows that metal has the potential to offer refuge from religious, and therefore patriarchal, authority, in regions where criticising said authority holds real danger of social stigma and persecution. With that said, the reflections of wider patriarchal social norms that do exist within metal culture cannot and should not be ignored.

In his book The Gender Knot: Unravelling Our Patriarchal Legacy, Allan Johnson elucidates a succinct, accurate illustration of the systemic features of patriarchy that I feel can also be applied, at least in part, to metal subcultures. In the rest of this post, I want to briefly list the features Johnson identifies as central to patriarchy, quoting his explanations thereof and demonstrating how they are reflected in the metal world3.

Patriarchy is…

Male domination: “positions of authority… are generally reserved for men… When a woman finds her way into such positions, people tend to be struck by the exception to the rule and wonder how she’ll measure up against a man in the same position… Male dominance also promotes the idea that men are superior to women… if men occupy superior positions, it’s a short leap to the idea that men must be superior.”4

Obviously an anti-authoritarian subculture like metal doesn’t have leaders or central authorities in the same way a country or a religion does. But famous and visible metal musicians do hold positions of relative power and influence compared to their fans. And it’s an inescapable truth that the overwhelming majority of those musicians are men, just as most powerful figures in politics, religion and business are.

It’s tempting to leap to the conclusion that, if there were more women in prominent positions within the metal community, this male domination would eventually be eroded. But while women’s increased representation in metal is undoubtedly part of combating male domination, it’s not enough by itself to destroy the idea of male superiority. Pop music has a large number of prominent, successful female performers, particularly in comparison to metal. But this does not mean the ideology of male superiority has disappeared from that genre, either. Robin Thicke’s smash hit “Blurred Lines”, and its endlessly-dissected video, was only the most prominent example this summer of a pop song depicting men in a sexually dominant position over women, who are shown as valuable only for their ability to service men sexually. This was the product of a deeply-held cultural belief in male superiority, and the individual successes of Beyonce or Lady Gaga did nothing to prevent it.

When female metallers do achieve success and fame, a lot of the attention they receive still revolves around them being “women in a man’s world”, and it’s still considered important to emphasise their ability to “measure up” to the guys. There seems to be a default attitude of suspicion toward women in metal- that they have gotten attention because of their gender rather than their skills (after all, if most famous metallers are men, it must be because men are just better at metal, right?) Thus the need to prove one’s worth as a female metalhead by identifying with a male-dominated subculture. Especially for female singers, this often centres on their ability to sound as harsh or “brutal” as men. This ties into the second key feature of patriarchy, male identification.

Male identification: “core cultural ideas about what is considered good, desirable, preferable, or normal are associated with how we think about men and masculinity… These include qualities such as control, strength, competitiveness, toughness, coolness under pressure, logic, forcefulness, decisiveness, rationality, autonomy, self-sufficiency, and control over any emotion that interferes with other core values (such as invulnerability). In contrast, qualities such as cooperation, mutuality, equality, sharing, compassion, caring, vulnerability, a readiness to negotiate and compromise, emotional expressiveness, and intuitive and other nonlinear ways of thinking are all devalued and culturally associated with femininity and femaleness”5.

Metal might not express its core values in the same way as mainstream culture, but the qualities most treasured in metal- “hardness” in sound and toughness in behaviour, uncompromising ethical stances, autonomy and independence, an individualist ethos- are ones culturally identified with manhood. To identify as a metalhead is to accept and promote these male-identified values; failing to do so makes one “false” or “untrue” to metal. This is essentially a reflection of the rhetoric in mainstream culture that not being strong, in control of your emotions or otherwise subscribing to male-identified cultural norms makes one not a man, a “faggot” or worse, a “girl”.

Metal’s veneration of an uncompromising, individualist aesthetic, which tends to be culturally identified with manhood, is by no means alien to other genres. Highly collaborative, cooperative metal bands are also in abundance, but these too are not always necessarily opposed to individualism as an ideal. Particularly in black metal, the subgenre most devoted to an anti-social and highly individualist stance, the one man band (and they are almost always formed by men) is the purest expression of the “lone ranger” archetype idealised in both metal and mainstream culture; the direct, unfiltered product of an uncompromising artist, usually a man, following no path but his own. This trend towards total freedom of self-expression has undoubtedly created some absolute masterpieces. It’s ironic that the two albums I praised so effusively in Part One for their potentially revolutionary model of political engaged metal, Liberteer’s Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees and Panopticon’s Kentucky, were also created by one man projects; they were written and performed entirely by Matthew Widener and Austin Lunn respectively. The adherence to individualism is not inherently a bad thing, obviously. It can form the basis for a stance of resistance against coercive authority. But it is rooted in the same patriarchal veneration of qualities that have been culturally associated primarily with men and manhood.

Of course, qualities identified with one gender are not actually exclusive to that gender alone. They are all human qualities- anyone, male or female, can be tough at times and emotionally vulnerable at others, or self-sufficient in some ways and reliant on those around them at others. The fact that women who sufficiently identify with “male” characteristics in metal gain some acceptance as “one of the guys” shows that musical and social concepts like “brutality”, self-sufficiency etc are not exclusive to one gender or another. The problem comes when one set of characteristics is both designated “feminine” and also devalued, considered “wussy” or “girly”. Attempts by bands to meld metal with “softer”, “feminised” musical forms are increasingly welcomed for increasing the genre’s diversity, but are still met with disdain in certain quarters, even if they succeed in bringing emotional depth and variety to the genre that an exclusive focus on the “hard”, male-identified emotions of anger or hatred cannot achieve by itself. In this way patriarchy is limiting for men as well as women. If even metal subcultures opposed to mainstream society consider “feminine” expression verboten, where can socially alienated metalheads turn to express the full range of human emotion?

Male centredness: “the focus of attention is primarily on men and what they do… With rare exceptions, women are portrayed as along for the ride… providing something for men to fight over, or being foils that reflect or amplify men’s heroic struggle with the human condition”.6

In looking at metal lyrics for representations of women, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that they are most notable for their absence. While relationship songs, hymns to a (generally) female lover, have formed pop music’s stock and trade from the 1950s up to the present day, metal love songs are rare, especially at the extreme end of the spectrum. This is not automatically problematic- metal is in part a reaction to bland, commodified mass culture, often deliberately turning to the dark and miserable side of life in contrast to an oppressively sunny pop landscape. Pop songs about love have their own bundle of issues in terms of how they portray women and (mis)represent healthy relationships; by largely avoiding the topic of love, metal at least avoids that particular hornet’s nest.

But in those songs where women are represented, problems quickly emerge. When they are not being ignored entirely, women are often present as victims of some horror movie sadist, carved up in countless gore-soaked grindcore and death metal songs. If they’re not victims of men they’re emotional tormentors, often presented as the villain via the trope of the “Evil Ex”, identified as a lyrical touchstone for metal by Natalie Zina Walschots in the wake of Tim Lambesis’ arrest. She describes how she fulfilled this role, of a symbolic female evil, for one anonymous musician in the wake of a breakup, and the harassment she endured as a result7. Walschots further locates the internet backlash against Meggan Lambesis as an expression of this same “Evil Ex” narrative. Unable to fathom a well-liked musician being capable of attempting to arrange his wife’s murder, fans shifted their blame to her for provoking him. Ascribing to the well-established cultural narrative of a wicked woman as the cause of a man’s woes was easier than acknowledging a respected public figure’s capacity for violence. For those commenters, Meggan Lambesis lost her humanity and became the “evil ex” trope personified. In this way, the male-centred nature of metal songs and their representations of women were responsible for the castigation and dehumanisation of a woman in real life.

Obsession with control: “[control is] the cultural standard for a truly superior human being, which is then used to justify men’s privileged position. Men are assumed (and expected) to be in control at all times, to be unemotional (except for anger and rage), to present themselves as invulnerable… and in command of every situation, especially those involving women”8.

Johnson is quick to point out that control is not in of itself an evil that inexorably leads to oppression. Civilisation as we know it would not exist without the human ability to control our actions and use our agency to achieve defined goals. Without a certain measure of control, several of metal’s key features would be absent. If no musicians were willing to subject themselves to years of disciplined practice, we wouldn’t have the highly technical guitar solos, drumwork and extreme vocal styles that make metal an exciting and vital genre. Without the discipline and control to make it through a potentially exhausting cycle of recording, promoting and touring, metal bands would not be able to share their music with a wide audience.

But as in patriarchal society overall, control often assumes such importance in metal that it becomes oppressive. Whether it’s rigid adherence to Spartan self-control, or a “loss of control” that results in metaphorical violence, control is at the heart of metal lyrics and imagery. This then has an effect on the wider subculture- it promotes the idea that emotions must be tightly controlled, expressed only in outbursts of anger, which is often the only emotion considered appropriate for men to show. This forces metal fans, men in particular, into the unenviable position of always having to be “hard”, in control, unable to show vulnerability. It might also contribute to a sense among women in metal that they can’t discuss the sexism they’ve encountered simply for being women in metal.

Of course, metal is not entirely subordinated to patriarchy’s control fetish. Depending on the particular subgenre in question, there is more or less room available for expression of emotion, especially on the negative end of the spectrum: depression, suicidal thoughts, misanthropy. It’s important that people have the outlet to express these as well as more positive feelings. But in the often violent imagery of extreme metal, the spectre of control is never far away. What are lyrics about murder and torture of women, if not expressions of ultimate control over a person’s very life?

As in wider society, the focus on control in metal discourse spills out into actions in the physical world. One wonders if Tim Lambesis was driven to plot his wife’s murder because he felt that, in the breakup of his family, he was losing the control, especially over women, that a patriarchal society leads men to feel entitled to.

[This is a two-part post, that will be continued in 2) (ii): The possibility, and necessity, of change.]

Footnotes

2 It may be worth noting the massive amounts of attention that Chris Brown’s assault of Rihanna received compared to the Lambesis case. Of course, Brown has many more fans, and a larger cultural impact, than the singer of a Christian metalcore band, so some of that attention is to be expected. But one wonders if Brown’s race played a part in making the mass media more comfortable passing judgement against him than Tim Lambesis. The intent here is not to excuse Brown’s horrific crime and his unapologetic stance after the fact because of his skin colour, but to note the role that race plays in reporting of crimes committed by celebrities.

3 This basic patriarchal model can be applied to metal’s engagement with people of colour and LGBT people, as well as women. The genre as a whole is dominated, identified and centred on the straight, the white and the male experience. For simplicity I’m only focusing on patriarchy in metal as it relates to women, but I believe parallels can be drawn between this and how it affects non-white and LGBT people.

4 Allan G. Johnson. The Gender Knot: Unravelling Our Patriarchal Legacy, p5-6

5 Johnson, p6-7

6 Johnson, p10

7 Natalie Zina Walschots. “It Is Safer In the Dark: What the Treatment of Meggan Lambesis Tells Us About Violence, Victim-Blaming and Silence”, Toronto Standard, 16th May 2013. http://torontostandard.com/culture/it-is-safer-in-the-dark-what-the-treatment-of-meggan-lambesis-tells-us-about-violence-victim-blaming-and-silence

8 Johnson, p14